Inside the NHL’s Five Point Plan

The NHL has developed a five point plan to help deal with the issue of headshots and concussions in the league. Air Canada today called the plan “a step in the right direction” but added that a lot needed to be done in order to ensure that the issue is taken seriously.

The development of the plan is an about-face from Gary Bettman’s earlier position of extraordinary arrogance. He was notably dismissive of Air Canada’s threats to revoke sponsorship in the wake of a rash of recent injuries, but now he appears to be more willing to budge.

So what is the five point plan? And is it good enough?

The plan, detailed here on NHL.com, is as follows:

1. Equipment size will be looked at. Brendan Shanahan and the NHLPA will look at reducing the size of equipment in a way that won’t reduce its effective as protection.

2. The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been tweaked somewhat in three areas: there will be mandatory removal for players exhibiting “listed symptoms,” there will be examination of a player by a team physician (not just a trainer) in a “quiet place free from distraction,” team physician must use an “acute examination tool” like the NHL SCAT 2 instead of a rinkside evaluation.

3. More accountability on behalf of the hockey club and management over “repeat offenders.”

4. A safety engineering firm will evaluate all 30 league arenas to enhance the safety of each arena if necessary. Teams using seamless glass will have to replace it with plexiglass by the start of the 2011-2012 season.

5. A committee (including Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Rob Blake, etc.) will “examine topics relevant to the issue.”

A glance at these points reveals just how behind the times the NHL has been for a very long time. Did the league really just implement the notion of examination of players by physicians in a “quiet place free from distraction?” I get the old dark ages tales that had trainers asking “how many fingers,” but I had no idea that the NHL was still doing that in 2011. Jeez.

Of course, these points continue to be undermined by the fact that Bettman continues to insist on touting the information that “only” 17 percent of the league’s many concussions have come from “illegal hits.” 44 percent of the concussions come from contact that the league considers to be perfectly legal, so what does that tell you about player protection in Bettman’s National Headshot League (credit to a creative Habs fan)?

Well, it tells you that the Chara hit was perfectly okay. Maybe not “legal,” as there was a penalty on the player. But from a suspension and fine standpoint, there was nothing inherently “wrong” with what happened from a supplemental standpoint. When Sidney Crosby was nailed by Victor Hedman and by David Steckel in two separate instances, those hits, too, were perfectly okay. Hedman got a two minute penalty, while Steckel got nothing for hammering Sid the Kid with shoulder pads that Don Cherry took issue with.

The hits to Crosby weren’t illegal because they didn’t violate Rule 48. The big hole here is that you can still hammer someone in the head all you like as long as it’s, forgive me, head-on. So again, what does that tell you about player protection?

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